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Fifty shades of beige: The woeful state of the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings

By Maryann Mussared - 21 October 2016 49

Looking through the colonnades of the Melbourne Building towards the Sydney Building about 1930. Image courtesy of National Archives of Australia from Mildenhall collection: A3560, 4317

Fast forward for a moment:  it is early 2019 and the first sleek and shiny new tram glides down Northbourne Avenue on its maiden voyage from Gungahlin into the Civic Terminus adjacent to the Sydney and Melbourne buildings.  Schoolchildren line the route waving commemorative flags at the first tram, full of dignitaries from all over the world.

These are people who could have power and influence over investment in the capital of Australia.  A perfect day in a perfect city.  What could possibly go wrong with this vision?

As the tram gently glides into the Civic Terminus, the VIPs are astonished at what they see.  What was once a pair of much loved inter-war Mediterranean-style building with gracious shady colonnades, are now in a state of advanced decay.  They have been allowed to degenerate into a series of individual leaseholdings that have not been required to follow even the most basic of heritage principles.  The exterior paint is fifty shades of beige, and the shabby colonnades shelter ugly mismatched shop fronts with poorly designed contemporary signage.

Sydney Building shopfront painted 'mission brown;

Sydney Building shopfront painted ‘mission brown’

We do need to understand how these much-loved buildings got into this state because this is also what they look like today.  They were the first to be built by private enterprise in Canberra commencing in 1926,  and were built in sections, like Paddington terrace houses.

Building in progress showing how both buildings were built in sections. Image courtesy of National Archives of Australia: A3560, 2573

Building in progress showing how both buildings were built in sections. Image courtesy of National Archives of Australia: A3560, 2573

They are actually divided into a number of individual leases, with a variety of leaseholders operating small businesses ranging from convenience stores to restaurants and hair salons.  The leaseholders are individually responsible for maintenance and we can assume are not restrained by specific heritage guidelines.  Although the buildings are  listed on the ACT Heritage Register, this only protects the heritage value of the place, but does also suggest a need to prepare a conservation management plan.

Sydney Building with peeling and mismatched paint.

Sydney Building with peeling and mismatched paint.

 

The fairly obvious conclusion is something needs to be done – and done now.  How do we move forward  to achieve an appropriate portal for Civic? At the worst, leaseholders will probably need assistance to repair and paint the exteriors a uniform heritage colour.  The immediate disadvantage is current leaseholders will resist such a move, as it will be at their own expense. So what is a possible alternative?  At the best, the new government could make a very brave decision, and as part of their already expensive City Metro pet project, take on board the need to do something radical.  They could buy back all the leases and clean up and repair both the exterior of the buildings and the shop fronts.  This would create the sort of united exterior imaged by the architect of these iconic buildings, Sir John Sulman.

The buildings could then be re-leased with a very specific purpose and shared vision for a new precinct worthy of a capital city:   galleries; cafes;  bistros with live music; flower stalls; and artist studios.  And outside across the tram tracks in the new central plaza public artworks that are currently neglected or vilified elsewhere in Canberra could be re-sited to a setting where they can be appreciated.  Imagine Bert Flugelman’s delightful Tumbling Cubes, poorly sited and prone to random damage in a quiet corner of the Belconnenn Town Centre, relocated to the new plaza and protected by a small moat of water.

Bert Flugelman's Tumbling Cubes, Belconnen Town Centre

Bert Flugelman’s Tumbling Cubes, Belconnen Town Centre

With no heritage management plan for these buildings, and if something doesn’t happen in the very near future, the shameful neglect and decay of these important portals, the Sydney and Melbourne buildings, will reach a stage where  it will be very expensive to ameliorate the entrenched decay.   The new ACT government needs to act decisively and act now.

Main picture: Looking through the colonnades of the Melbourne Building towards the Sydney Building about 1930. Image courtesy of National Archives of Australia from Mildenhall collection: A3560, 4317.

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49 Responses to
Fifty shades of beige: The woeful state of the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings
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dungfungus 10:00 am 28 Oct 16

wottaway said :

I cannot believe how these buildings have been allowed to decay like this. They are the first structures any stranger is likely to remember after travelling the length of Northbourne Ave. Until 2012, the most beautiful building along there was No78, Manufacturers Mutual Ins., my old office, but of course that had to disappear. Even in the early 60/70s, these stand-out buildings looked forlorn, and given the prominence given to the marketing of Canberra as a place of beauty, regardless of ownership, I’ll nominate politicians as the culprits.

Yes, it’s a toss-up which is the grungiest, the Westside Container Village or the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings.

ChrisinTurner 12:15 am 28 Oct 16

Any proposal with a chance would have to line the pockets of a developer mate. I don’t see any proposal that does this.

wottaway 5:18 pm 27 Oct 16

I cannot believe how these buildings have been allowed to decay like this. They are the first structures any stranger is likely to remember after travelling the length of Northbourne Ave. Until 2012, the most beautiful building along there was No78, Manufacturers Mutual Ins., my old office, but of course that had to disappear. Even in the early 60/70s, these stand-out buildings looked forlorn, and given the prominence given to the marketing of Canberra as a place of beauty, regardless of ownership, I’ll nominate politicians as the culprits.

dungfungus 10:48 pm 26 Oct 16

JC said :

dungfungus said :

I did see trams parked overnight in France; I didn’t say I thought I saw them I said I thought it was Lyon.

I have now referred to memoirs and recall that it was at Perrache, Lyon which used to be the main railway station for Lyon but you already know that,don’t you.

In fact there were armed soldiers everywhere 24/7 in Lyon. Apparently there is a terrorist presence in France, so yes, they were being guarded overnight.

Surely you are not suggesting that our Canberra trams parked overnight in the city would be vandalised.

Regarding my suggested 1,000,001 reasons for not having a token tram service, if you put a $ sign in front of that one billion and one figure that may almost cover the cost of the folly.

That alone is a good enough reason not to have the tram as we will soon find out.

Yep know the station well, I have visited Lyon a few times. I used to live in Europe and traveled to France quite a bit, it is quite the place for a transport enthusiast. For trams I liked Strasbourg the most though, especially the Eurotram design. Though Lyon was ok too and has trolley buses for something different.

Though still confused about trams stabling at this station. One line passes through and one line yeah it is a terminus. Now maybe you are right they do park some trams here, I don’t know as I don’t like hanging out at isolated railway stations between 12:30am and 5am . But you got to admit a tram terminus underneath a main line railway station isn’t what you would call a stock standard terminus or stabling location is it? Nor representative of what is the norm? And certainly not quite the same as parking a few up on Northborne Ave overnight, where yes I do reckon they would get vandalised. Canberra isn’t crime free you know.

A couple of points JC.

Firstly, I am not a tram enthusiast like you or the people responsible for committing the rest of us to “transit penury” for the next 20 years.

Enthusiasts and their money are quickly parted.

I have never found travelling in a tram comfortable or fast and in a place like Canberra where travelling by private motor car is the sensible thing to do, a tram line has no place.

Secondly, I am not admitting to anything you are suggesting.

JC 6:18 pm 26 Oct 16

dungfungus said :

I did see trams parked overnight in France; I didn’t say I thought I saw them I said I thought it was Lyon.

I have now referred to memoirs and recall that it was at Perrache, Lyon which used to be the main railway station for Lyon but you already know that,don’t you.

In fact there were armed soldiers everywhere 24/7 in Lyon. Apparently there is a terrorist presence in France, so yes, they were being guarded overnight.

Surely you are not suggesting that our Canberra trams parked overnight in the city would be vandalised.

Regarding my suggested 1,000,001 reasons for not having a token tram service, if you put a $ sign in front of that one billion and one figure that may almost cover the cost of the folly.

That alone is a good enough reason not to have the tram as we will soon find out.

Yep know the station well, I have visited Lyon a few times. I used to live in Europe and traveled to France quite a bit, it is quite the place for a transport enthusiast. For trams I liked Strasbourg the most though, especially the Eurotram design. Though Lyon was ok too and has trolley buses for something different.

Though still confused about trams stabling at this station. One line passes through and one line yeah it is a terminus. Now maybe you are right they do park some trams here, I don’t know as I don’t like hanging out at isolated railway stations between 12:30am and 5am . But you got to admit a tram terminus underneath a main line railway station isn’t what you would call a stock standard terminus or stabling location is it? Nor representative of what is the norm? And certainly not quite the same as parking a few up on Northborne Ave overnight, where yes I do reckon they would get vandalised. Canberra isn’t crime free you know.

dungfungus 5:01 pm 26 Oct 16

JC said :

dungfungus said :

I saw trams parked at the end of a track overnight somewhere in France; Lyon I think.

The cleaning can be done by the driver (as is done on Murrays Coaches) and any maintenance would be done at the depot in daytime hours .

Is there any maintenance required on a tram anyhow? They don’t have to have their fuel tanks filled and greasing and oil changes every 10,000 kms, do they?

So you THINK you saw it once in one city, so therefor that is the norm and Canberra stabling trams in a depot overnight is and I quote “But then again, this is Canberra and we do things differently.”

Thanks for the morning laugh.

As for maintenance of trams, they are machines, they have moving parts, they need maintenance.

PS I’ve been to Lyon and I seriously doubt they would stable trams in the street overnight. In fact would say that for most cities in France. They would get vandalised, unless of course they had a couple of security guards sitting with them overnight.

Anyway I look forward to your next installment of 1,000,001 reasons why Canberra should not have light rail according to Dungers.

I did see trams parked overnight in France; I didn’t say I thought I saw them I said I thought it was Lyon.

I have now referred to memoirs and recall that it was at Perrache, Lyon which used to be the main railway station for Lyon but you already know that,don’t you.

In fact there were armed soldiers everywhere 24/7 in Lyon. Apparently there is a terrorist presence in France, so yes, they were being guarded overnight.

Surely you are not suggesting that our Canberra trams parked overnight in the city would be vandalised.

Regarding my suggested 1,000,001 reasons for not having a token tram service, if you put a $ sign in front of that one billion and one figure that may almost cover the cost of the folly.

That alone is a good enough reason not to have the tram as we will soon find out.

JC 12:44 pm 26 Oct 16

dungfungus said :

I saw trams parked at the end of a track overnight somewhere in France; Lyon I think.

The cleaning can be done by the driver (as is done on Murrays Coaches) and any maintenance would be done at the depot in daytime hours .

Is there any maintenance required on a tram anyhow? They don’t have to have their fuel tanks filled and greasing and oil changes every 10,000 kms, do they?

So you THINK you saw it once in one city, so therefor that is the norm and Canberra stabling trams in a depot overnight is and I quote “But then again, this is Canberra and we do things differently.”

Thanks for the morning laugh.

As for maintenance of trams, they are machines, they have moving parts, they need maintenance.

PS I’ve been to Lyon and I seriously doubt they would stable trams in the street overnight. In fact would say that for most cities in France. They would get vandalised, unless of course they had a couple of security guards sitting with them overnight.

Anyway I look forward to your next installment of 1,000,001 reasons why Canberra should not have light rail according to Dungers.

dungfungus 10:41 am 26 Oct 16

creative_canberran said :

Consolidator said :

modernising ANU endeavouring to capture new income to offset this $capital sponging territory.

I wonder how many Canberrans think ANU is a territory entity, rather than a Commonwealth one?

Canberra University is definitely a territory entity, however.

dungfungus 10:34 am 26 Oct 16

JC said :

dungfungus said :

JC said :

creative_canberran said :

Yeah it’s called dead running, and it’s an issue with any mass transit. At the moment busses have to depart Belco to get to Gunghalin anyway in the morning, and some services based out of the newly reopenned Woden depot have dead runs too. At least with light-rail you’re not burning diesel or gas to do it.

Dead running is a favored subject of Mr Coe. Every year or so he comes out with a figure that looks very scary, like Action buses dead run 12,000km every day. Then include some ‘facts’ like that is equivalent to driving from Canberra to Dubai to make it look ev0en worse.

But when you actually consider the number in context 12,000km every day is equivalent to just under 27km for each and everyone of the 450 odd buses Action owns, which is not all that unreasonable in a city the size of Canberra. All you need is for a bus to run from say Fraser to Barton to then return to another terminus empty to start a 2nd route and your dead running adds up. Then add in school services which are notoriously one way and it adds up even more.

And what is the alternative, run buses in service against the flow of traffic in the peak hour, costing the same if not more in fuel, plus because it is in service it will take much longer, meaning more driver time and more buses are needed. Build more depots, which will cost money to run and maintain, or stable buses at terminus where they would be subject to vandilism and other complications, like cleaning and refueling.

Same would apply with light rail too. Dead running is inevitable, though the proposed schedule shows they are trying to minimise it as much as possible.

The alternative is to leave trams ready to go at each end of the track.

It’s done elsewhere and just because the busses stuffed it up doesn’t mean the trams have to as well.

But then again, this is Canberra and we do things differently.

Please name one city where trams are left at termini overnight?

And with this subject Canberra is doing NOTHING different. Stabling in a depot is the norm not an exception. When do you expect the vehicles to be cleaned and maintained?

I saw trams parked at the end of a track overnight somewhere in France; Lyon I think.

The cleaning can be done by the driver (as is done on Murrays Coaches) and any maintenance would be done at the depot in daytime hours .

Is there any maintenance required on a tram anyhow? They don’t have to have their fuel tanks filled and greasing and oil changes every 10,000 kms, do they?

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